The Goodwill in Brandon may be closed, but employees there are on the clock wiping down coffee makers, pots and glasses with disinfectant while stocking the shelves.
When the store reopens in a few days, shoppers will see a scene they’ve grown used to at the grocery store: Employees’ faces covered by masks and cashiers behind sneeze guards. Stickers on the floor to guide shoppers down one-way aisles and reminders to stay 6 feet apart.
Staff will keep the the number of people inside the store at any one time under 25 percent its usual capacity and regularly sanitize high touch points.
Goodwill Suncoast, the local nonprofit that runs the Tampa Bay charity shops, had been planning to reopen May 15 after shutting down amid the coronavirus pandemic. After Gov. Ron DeSantis announced phase one of his plan to reopen the state would begin Monday, Goodwill decided it was the right time to invite customers back around Tampa Bay.
“For the past week, we’ve been getting dozens of calls each day from people asking when our stores will reopen,” said marketing director Chris Ward. “I’ve noticed that traffic has increased a lot in the past week."
Goodwill, which uses its retail operation to pay for its job-finding services, was considered an essential business under state’s last order. It could have been open the last month, but the nonprofit decided to stay closed alongside retailers that had no choice but to shut their doors under the state’s Safer at Home order.
Now that Florida has a new set of rules that begin on Monday, local businesses are deciding whether it’s the right time to put out the welcome mat. Some are eager to get whatever income back they can, while others question if it’s safe enough to put their employees back to work.
“There’s two camps of people,” said St. Petersburg shop owner David Fischer. “As a business, you’re treading a fine line. It’s hard to strike the right balance and stay in business.”
Grocery stores have been open throughout the last month, as have big box retailers that sell food and other essential items. Stores such as Home Depot, Target and Walmart have been busy and haven’t seen a dip in sales.
Malls started closing in mid- to late-March and it’s unclear when they will reopen. A Tampa International Plaza spokeswoman said the mall has not announced an opening day yet. Simon Property Group has said some of its malls will reopen next week, but has not announced any Florida openings, including at Tyrone Square Mall. It’s also unclear when any Westfield malls may reopen.
Under the governor’s new order, which goes into effect on Monday, retail stores, museums and libraries can operate at 25 percent of their usual indoor capacity.
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Scott Shalley, the head of the Florida Retail Federation, called “Phase One” of DeSantis’ approach thoughtful and measured.
“With the opportunity for Florida retail stores to open their doors ... we can get Floridians back to work.” Shalley said in a statement. "I encourage consumers to support Florida businesses by taking advantage of all the options — curbside, delivery and soon in-store services.”
Goodwill is following DeSantis’ occupancy guidelines, but will reopen some stores ahead of Monday because of the services it provides. The job service centers are located within the retail stores. Ward said they’re eager to reopen and build up revenue so its job centers can help the record number of unemployed workers.
Meanwhile, traditional retailers are hopeful they can begin getting revenue back up enough to bring back furloughed employees.
Fischer, the owner of downtown St. Petersburg’s Zazoo’d, has been hawking his shop’s eclectic assortment of home decor during Facebook live streams. He’s had some success selling online, but sales are down about 85 percent.
The store will reopen at 11 a.m. Monday and will only accept card payments. Further down Central Avenue in the Grand Central District, package-free shop Sans Market will only let two shoppers inside at a time when it reopens Monday. Workers will be in masks, and the store will encourage shoppers to do the same. The shop also will continue to emphasize it’s ongoing online order and curbside pick-up options.
Over on E Fowler Avenue in Tampa, Mojo Books & Records has also been relying on online orders and delivery to keep afloat while its store is closed. But a closed store has meant the usual customers aren’t coming into browse or take a seat at the coffee and tea bar, said owner Melanie Cade.
“So much of what we do is about the experience,” she said.
For now, the plan is to allow only eight customers inside at a time, with gloves and hand sanitizer available at the front of the store.
The 4,200 square-foot-space will make it easy for people to stay socially distant, Cade said. Staff will wear masks.
But not ever retailer is jumping at the chance to reopen.
Daphne McDowell of Simple Graces Jewelry has found success moving her brick-and-mortar Tampa business online.
Opening at a 25 percent capacity won’t cut it for her. She said not even Mother’s Day, a typical high sales holiday, would bring in enough foot traffic as the pandemic and rampant unemployment continues.
“I don’t see it bouncing back anytime soon,” McDowell said.
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